Trident S40 Single Channel Strip

By Barry Rudolph


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Trident S40 Single Channel StripWith its signature black-anodized front panel, colored aluminum knobs and small rectangular push buttons, the S40 is clearly the progeny of Trident's Series 80 and TSM consoles. Housed in a two-rackspace cabinet, this single-channel recording strip uses the Series 80 4-band EQ and TSM's high/lowpass filters. A fitting tribute to Trident designer John Oram's 40th year in the business, I found the S40 to be exactly as a Series 80 console's input module. From the no-nonsense working style of the smooth controls to the clear, present and upfront sound character those boards are known for, the S40 has it all.

ANATOMY OF AN S40
All circuits in the S40 run Class-A along with the latest chips used for lower noise and slower TL070 ICs to retain the classic Trident sound. The front panel is divided into four sections: a microphone pre-amp that accepts up to +22dBu, (with noise at -101dBu unweighted in lower mic gain settings) there is no need for a separate line input; Dynamics is a smooth-working compressor/limiter with In/Out bypass button; four-band semi-parametric equalizer with overlapping mid-range sections; followed by the Output Driver/Meter section. Looking inside the all-steel cabinet, I found internal construction good with many surface-mounted components, and hand-wired pots and Elma switches. The unit is all made in England and has an internal 110/220 VAC power supply.

The mic pre-amp section has a single detented gain pot for smooth and continuous control from unity or 0dB up to 60dB of gain--plenty of gain for any microphone even vintage ribbons. There are phase flip and phantom on/off switches and a peak LED that lights at +9dBu output peaks--it flashed a lot during my sessions. The mic pre has an input source impedance of 200 ohms, is transformerless and based on the TSM. It measures an E.I.N. of -126.4dBu, a max output of +28dBu and a dynamic range specified at 154dB. There is also a 1/4-inch input jack that, when in use, a relay switches in a 10 megohm input impedance gain stage ready for any piezo transducer or the impedance sensitive passive pickups of your favorite Fender P-Bass. Max level into this input is +15dBu.

The dynamics section is from the Oram Sonicomp range and in the new Trident Oram Series 80 5.1 console. The compressor uses a VCA but is configured as a feedback element of an amplifier, so the main signal path remains untouched. The S40 has rear panel control voltage-in/out jacks for external control of gain or stereo linking. This workhorse compressor/limiter has continuously adjustable attack times from 0.1 ms to 40 ms, and threshold (-45 dB to +18 dB) and release times from 0.05 to three seconds. I'd like to see even slower attack time choices offered. The nonlinear ratio control range is good, as the lower ratios are spread out to easily set a 1:1 to 1.5:1 to 1.75:1 to 2:1 and 15:1 for hard limiting. Gain reduction is always read on the meter, even when the compressor is bypassed--great for setting up for an upcoming song in a live sound mix.

The Pre button inserts the compressor before/after the EQ section. The S40 borrows this feature from the Oram GMS Al Schmitt Pro-Channel, and it offers no excuses for lazy engineers who would patch an outboard compressor after EQ and never bother to repatch to hear it the other way around. I found the compressor useful and mostly transparent for light duties: lower ratios and higher thresholds for 1 to 4 dB of RMS gain reduction. For a purposeful "squashed" sound character with lots of personality, the unit is capable of all the "sturm and drang" you can take. I wish the compressor section had a makeup gain control for A/B comparisons of compressed to uncompressed at the same level.

The S40's 4-band EQ is accurate and smooth. The two sweepable midsections overlap, covering 150 Hz to 2 kHz and 1.5 kHz to 15 kHz. With broad half-octave Qs, these sections are excellent tools for subtle touch-ups or severe carving of an individual track or program mix. The shelving LF and HF bands offer two corner frequency choices: 50 or 150 Hz and 7 kHz or 12 kHz, respectively, and smooth 4dB/octave curves. The high and lowpass filters are tuneable: LF from 5 to 200 Hz, and HF from 1 kHz to 50 kHz. Bandwidth-limiting tracks with these filters can keep useless frequencies out of the track's total energy band. Boosting with the low- and high-shelf equalizers at the same frequencies produces a unique equalizer sound.

The S40 finishes out with a balanced Output Driver section where an additional 6dB of gain is available for any output level adjustments. Max output level into 600 ohms load is +28.7dBu for a total system gain of 66dB. Most of the time I ran this around the center detent position unless I required makeup gain when using the compressor. There is a small round VU meter that measures output level or gain reduction. The meter changes backlit color from green for gain reduction mode to a pretty blue for output level mode--easy to spot from across the control room.

IN THE STUDIO
The S40 is straightforward to use. I recorded narration tracks using a stock Neumann U87, my voice-over talent's favorite mic. With the 87, the S40 had a clear and present sound without any additional EQ. THD is 0.014% wideband 20Hz to 40kHz @ +28dBm and recording singing voices took on a certain clarity--a forward sound without sounding EQ'd.

My quick and unscientific reference A/B test against my Brent Averill restored Neve 1073 module showed that using a U87, with both modules set to 50 dB of gain and no EQ or compression, the S40 produced the same output level and overall sound but had a punchier low end. With EQ in, there is a slight increase in low-frequency distortion rising to 0.1% at 20 Hz.

Making a song harder-sounding to compete with an aggressive rock track, I used a combination of bandwidth limiting, EQ and compression. However, the next session may be all about purity and naturalness. Here, the S40 would score again with the transparency and headroom of the mic preamp section.

I recorded a Tobias bass using the 1/4-inch DI input. Slightly overloading the preamp and compressing with a 1.5:1 ratio yielded a very cool, distinctive rock bass sound. Reducing the preamp gain produced a smooth jazz tone that was great on a ballad.

Setting the gain to 0 dB, the S40 becomes a line-level processor. I liked the equalizer and compressor to post-process guitars, keyboards, drums, vocals, etc.

With all of the new preamps that promise to sound like vintage equipment, the S40 delivers the classic Trident console sound. From meticulous high-fidelity recordings to over-the-top aggressive processing, the S40 does it all and belongs in the pantheon of classic vintage recording gear. It's sold exclusively in the USA through Guitar Center at a retail of $2,495.

Trident Audio Limited, +44 1474/815300, www.tridentaudio.co.uk.

Barry Rudolph is an L.A.-based recording engineer. Visit his Web site at: WWW.BARRYRUDOLPH.COM




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